Pilot Mountain population too good to be true

A recent Environment Department census of Dall sheep on Pilot Mountain suggests the ram population is improving. But longtime biologist Manfred Hoefs isn't buying the new numbers.

A recent Environment Department census of Dall sheep on Pilot Mountain suggests the ram population is improving.

But longtime biologist Manfred Hoefs isn’t buying the new numbers.

Last month, Environment officials did a helicopter sweep of the Pilot Mountain area to tally sheep populations.

The number of rams in the Pilot Mountain area, 50 kilometres north of Whitehorse, have been closely tracked over the past two years after numbers were found to be far below what is considered healthy.

The survey found the proportion of rams to ewes increased by 66 per cent, which Hoefs finds hard to believe.

“I’m really suspicious—the numbers can’t jump that much unless you miss counting a lot of females.”

In 2008, the proportion of rams to nursery ewes was found to be 38 to 100. This year, the number spiked to 63.

“I dispute that,” said Hoefs. “It’s not possible that (the number of rams) could double in a year. It’s just biologically not possible.”

Hoefs, who has studied Dall sheep in the Yukon for the last 40 years, suggested the department overlooked about 30 sheep in its count, enough sheep to skew the proportion of rams, making it seem like it’s higher than it is.

Missing sheep isn’t uncommon. In fact, last year it happened to him.

In 2008, Hoefs wasn’t able to count all the sheep on Pilot Mountain because of an unexpectedly late snowfall.

So, after questioning his data, he did a recount.

The concern is that hunters prize rams, and a wrong count could affect the number of rams hunted.

Hoefs sits on the Laberge Renewable Resources Council, which called for a two-year ban of ram hunting on Pilot Mountain, a moratorium supported by the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board.

Environment Minister Elaine Taylor rejected the ban, instead imposing an annual harvest limit of six rams.

Long-term studies carried out by the council over the last three decades show that rams make up only 33 per cent of the Dall sheep population on Pilot Mountain.

Rams and sheep are born with a 50:50 sex ratio. The imbalanced sex ratio on Pilot Mountain is a result of shorter lifespans for rams, but also “excessive harvesting,” said Hoefs.

Two years ago, the ram population was 27 per cent, a number far below the 40 per cent mark outlined in the government’s sheep-management guidelines.

“Our whole argument is based on the government violating their own guidelines,” said Hoefs.

It comes down to a dispute over numbers. And the government is holding fast to its numbers.

All the sheep that could be counted were accounted for, said Jean Carey, an Environment biologist who was involved in this year’s sheep count.

“I’m convinced we had a good count this time.”

The increased ram population is a result of fluctuating lamb crops, she said.


government won’t release the percentage of rams that have “full-curl” horns for fear that it may get into the hands of eager hunters looking to bag a trophy ram, said Carey.

But this number is crucial to determining how healthy a population of Dall sheep is, said Hoefs.

Older rams are important to a population because they pass along genetic makeup and experience to future generations of rams.

“You’ve got to have some really good rams to do breeding, and that’s no longer the case,” said Hoefs.

However, older rams are “the least risky harvest to a population,” according to Carey.

“I agree that (the Dall sheep) have social structures and older animals are important,” she said.

“But if you say, ‘Don’t shoot them,’ they may end up dying next year because of age.”

Rams are getting picked off earlier than eight years of age, the legal age that hunters are allowed to bag a ram, said Hoefs.

“I’m pretty sure the trophy quality of rams is not as big as they should be.”

“We’ve done our homework,” said Carey. “We want to be allowing hunting of healthy sheep populations and I think we’ve got that.”

Contact Vivian Belik at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Calvin Delwisch poses for a photo inside his DIY sauna at Marsh Lake on Feb. 18.
Yukoners turning up the heat with unique DIY sauna builds

Do-it-yourselfers say a sauna built with salvaged materials is a great winter project

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. Johnston and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn announced changes to the implementation of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Third phase added to procurement policy implementation

Additional time added to prep for two provisions

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

Most Read